Long-time resident Bob Cable says he has until the end of the month to come up with more than $8,000 to repair lines he claims were ruptured following a botched repair job on the city mainline that runs in front of his property.
It all started in February when Chestermere Utilities Inc. (CUI) and Epcor changed the water mains on his street. The task involved ripping up the pavement to access the main water line and the copper feeders that run under his front lawn to the house.
The job was fraught with errors from the start. Cable says the crews originally dug up the wrong side of the road before a back hoe accidentally ruptured the sewer line. Then a few months later CUI informed him that he too has a water mains leak on his side of the property line, a leak he did not have before.
“It does not seem to be a coincidence that, sloppy work was performed in front of our house and then soon after we have a leak just a few feet away,” he said.
Cable suspects the aging copper lines were stretched and ruptured during the original repair, which involves “tugging” on the lines to access and replace the junction with the mainline.
Indeed, his lawn is marked up with blue paint showing the location of the leak, located barely a yard from the sidewalk, which was also ripped up and replaced.
“A huge machine, like the one that dug up the road, could easily pull on the line in the road and stretch/damage it anywhere along its length,” he says. “One technique used to replace these lines is by pulling new lines into place under the ground… it would be incredibly easy for our leak to be caused by the machine digging into or catching the water line in the road.”
Copper is a soft metal which was used extensively through the city when his West Lake neighbourhood was built in the early 2000s. The lines sit in gravel, which is also unstable. Cable’s home was built in 2001.
The life expectancy of the line is 35-50 years and Cable, a retired machinist, is well aware of how easily damaged the pipes are.
CUI Chief Executive Officer Leigh-Anne Palter said that she is aware of the problems with the copper pipes.
She said that there are about 1500 homes in Chestermere that, like Cable, have copper service lines connecting the homes to the main line.
The installation of the service lines and the decision to use copper was the responsibility of the developer when the community was being built with maintenance being transferred to the city and homeowners a couple years after completion.
Palter said that the copper lines are actually reaching the end of their service lives.
As this happens small leaks and holes can corrode in the lines.
“Regrettably it’s a more frequent occurrence,” she said.
In more recent construction, copper has been replaced with more flexible plastic PVC tubing.
Cable said he went to CUI administration and was informed that there is an ongoing problem with leaks in neighbourhoods where the copper pipes were used. Cable says he’s aware of at least a dozen homes in his neighbourhood on the west side of the lake that have similar problems. “It’s definitely a common issue,” he says.
Despite being aware of the problem, the city refused to pay for even a portion of the repair and instead issued a demand notice to have it fixed by the end of the month. Cable says he’s received estimates as high as $10,000 to fix it. The plumbers he’s spoken with almost all agree that the city caused the rupture, but can’t prove it.
Even then, Cable says he’s open to a compromise but is disappointed by the hardline stance of CUI officials. “I’m a little miffed they didn’t even offer to go half way,” he said.
In the meantime, the city has installed a bridge line from his neighbour’s garden hose outlet to the house via an above-ground meter — which is locked so he can’t gauge how much water is actually being used. Although it works, the houses have to time tasks like showers and lawn watering to compensate for the reduced line pressure.
“It’s definitely a temporary fix,” he says.
Palter said that as the lines wear out, it is CUI’s responsibility to repair and maintain the lines on the public side of the property line but it is up to homeowners to cover the repairs of the service lines buried on private property.
The connection of Cable’s house to his neighbours for water service and the issuance of a period of time to make repairs follows the standard CUI procedure followed when a leak is discovered in a service line.
“[We] appreciate that its very unwelcome news to people,” said Palter, “but it’s really no different than having to repair…your driveway.”
“Just because it intersects with the road and we do work on the roadside doesn’t mean its our obligation to fix damage that occurs with natural wear and tear,” she said.
As part of CUI’s procedures, a CUI staff member was sent out to investigate Cable’s claims that the work by Epcor caused the damage to his line.
“I can tell you that Dirk attended to this gentleman’s site and made the inspection,” said Palter.